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Law and Justice

Californians Largely Support Police Reforms And Their Local PD, Poll Shows

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Andrew Nixon
Protesters demonstrating against the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police take a knee near the east steps of the California state Capitol as police stand on June 3, 2020.

Despite the desire for stepped-up reforms, 70% of respondents said they are satisfied with their local police department.

Californians broadly support the Black Lives Matter movement, a range of police reforms and — despite the desire for changes — their own local police departments by wide margins, according to a new pair of UC Berkeley polls.

Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies surveyed 8,328 registered California voters from July 21-27. They found voters support a range of police reforms:

  • 80% say they either strongly or somewhat favor passing laws to make to easier to prosecute police who use excessive force
  • 78% support banning chokeholds while detaining suspects
  • 70% favor ending qualified immunity — or allowing civilians to sue officers over excessive force
  • 61% support limiting powers of police unions

Despite the desire for stepped-up reforms, 70% of respondents said they are satisfied with their local police department.

“It's pretty consistent that the public, even though they think the police [are] generally doing a good job in their local area, they want to make some changes to the structure of the police,” said IGS Poll Director Mark DiCamillo.

In another twist, 72% said they support shifting first responder duties for people experiencing a mental health crisis or homelessness away from police and toward social and mental health services — a key goal of the movement to defund police departments, though the poll did not frame the question that way.

“The findings show that the issue of policing is complex,” said IGS Co-director Cristina Mora. “Overall, voters seem familiar with and are generally supportive of their local police. Yet, they also recognize that there are deeply ingrained problems with the nature of policing and law enforcement today, and broadly support systemic change.”

The poll shows 63% of registered voters in the state have a favorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement, compared to 30% who say they have an unfavorable view.

That stands in stark contrast to a survey conducted a decade ago, when IGS asked voters about race relations in California. Just 14% said they were extremely concerned, while 36% said they were somewhat concerned.

“Now you get large majorities saying they’re concerned and 49% saying they’re extremely concerned,” DiCamillo said. “The death of George Floyd really did seem to change things in kind of a major way.”

State lawmakers are hungry for reform, too, pushing bills to codify several of the changes Californians indicated support for: a ban on carotid restraints and other chokeholds, stripping the badges of officers fired for misconduct or convicted of certain crimes, and creating a duty for officers to intercede if they witness a colleague using excessive force.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D – Sacramento) is running a bill that would create a new division in the state Department of Justice to investigate police shootings and review a police department’s use-of-force policies at the jurisdiction’s request.

“In this era of George Floyd, and what we saw in my community last year with Stephon Clark, there’s been a great cry for common sense police reform and sometimes aggressive police reform,” McCarty told a Senate committee Wednesday before they gave the bill a stamp of approval.

It’s now one of several police reform proposals that could make it to the floor for a final vote before the Legislature adjourns on Aug. 31.

Copyright 2020 CapRadio